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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Ball   25 June [1874]1

10 Southwell Gardens | S. Kensington

25 June

My dear Mr Darwin

Having lately returned to England after a long absence of nearly 12 months I received only to day a note from you addressed to my former house in St George’s Road— Of course I could not comply with your wish on that occasion but although I dont like making pledges I think I may safely promise to vote at any future ballot for any one whom you recommend for the Athenaeum.2 I was tempted to write to you from Rome last winter but being laid up for some weeks failed to do so— The point was to call your attention if that had not been already done to a work by an American writer—I fancy the name is Ward—containing much curious & seemingly reliable observation of the habits of the beaver—3 I know it only at second hand through Mr Marsh4 the U. States Minister in Italy a man remarkable for a large store of accurate & well arranged knowledge on many different subjects. I fear that I have lost or mislaid the memorandum I made at the time

More recently I have heard from an old French friend whom I consider a thoroughly credible witness some anecdotes of dogs that seem to me to carry the evidence as to their intellectual faculties some degrees farther than anything I know of— If on further enquiry I am confirmed in that impression I will get my informant, who is partly a witness and in each case was well acquainted with the human & canine actors, to write the story down & forward it to you.5

Believe me | very faithfully yours | John Ball

C. Darwin Esq F.R.S.


The year is established by the allusion to Henry Parker’s election to membership of the Athenaeum (see n. 2, below).
Earlier in the year, CD had been canvassing support for his nephew Henry Parker, who was proposed for membership of the Athenaeum in March 1874 (see letter to George Bentham, 9 March [1874]).
Ball possibly refers to Lewis Henry Morgan, who published an account of the American beaver (Morgan 1868); CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 602).
George Perkins Marsh.
Ball’s French friend has not been identified. CD had discussed the reasoning capabilities of dogs in Descent 1: 48.


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.


Received CD’s note late and so could not comply, but promises to vote in future for anyone CD recommends for Athenaeum.

Will have new evidence on dog’s intelligence sent to CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Ball
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Southwell Gardens, 10
Source of text
DAR 160: 34
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9512,” accessed on 20 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22